Walnut is a dark and classic style of wood that looks great when used to make bedroom or living room furniture. Woodworkers love using it because it is easy to shape and cut which allows them to be more creative with their final design. But there are some downsides to working with walnut lumber that make it a hassle to use.
Although you may have your heart set on crafting that walnut chest or cabinet, here are a few reasons why you may want to avoid this classic wood type and move on to another material.
1. Working Around Knots and Sapwood
- Kiln dry walnut, ready to use
- Sanded both sides
- Excellent for scroll sawing or laser engraving / cutting
Walnut is a very different and unusual type of material to work with. At first glance, the wood may appear to be very low quality just because of all the knots and sap that you must work around to get the cut that you want. These are the characteristics of the wood species and they don’t necessary mean that the wood is of poor quality. But the knots can make it very difficult to work with especially if you are trying to create a customized piece with plenty of detail. If you can create a piece using walnut wood that features tons of knots and sapwood, then you are very skilled in the trade of woodworking.
The knots are created by the large number of branches on the trees. There will be knots of all shapes and sizes in your lumber, and they can be located anywhere from the edges to the middle of the wood. To get your hands on black walnut wood that isn’t filled with knots, you’ll need to go by the lumber grades. The grade of lumber that you will want to purchase for fewer knots and other complications would be in the top 3 lumber grades.
Based on the NHLA Rulebook, the best black walnut lumber will feature a minimum of 83% clear on the best side. Knots that are 1-1/4” in diameter will be counted as a defect, and it is likely that you will never have a piece of lumber where both sides are clear.
2. Walnut is Prone to Sapwood Rings
- Solid Black Walnut Hardwood
- Each piece measures a full 3/4" x 4" x 12"
- Great for cutting boards and other small woodworking projects.
If you want to create a table or cabinet that is sleek and clean with no knots or rings, then walnut may not be the best choice. All trees have sapwood rings, however there are some that are more visible than others. Sapwood rings are the pale yellow-ish white sections of the wood that lies between the bark and the heartwood. It is the area that transports the water and other nutrients all throughout the tree. Some types of wood have a natural sapwood ring while others have a large one. Walnut has a large sap ring and the color variation stands out since the heartwood is so much darker than the other wood found in the trees.
All grades of walnut lumber will have sapwood, but there are some limitations. According to the rules, the face of the board must have a lower percentage of sapwood than the back of the board.
3. Most Walnut Lumber is Steamed
- Beautiful Grain
- Perfectly Kiln Dried
- Two sides sanded to 3/4" thickness
To fix the color disparity between the sapwood and the heartwood, lumber companie4s steam walnut wood. The concept helps to even out the colors and reduce the strong contrast between the sapwood and heartwood. Any walnut lumber that isn’t steamed will have a clear and visible line between the heart and the sap whereas with steamed lumber that line is less noticeable. The downside to steamed lumber is that it will develop a grayish or brown color over time. While steamed walnut wood will change color once it is exposed to UV rays, it may be considered a disadvantage to some woodworkers who have a shade or tone in mind for their projects.
How to Avoid These Issues
If you still want to work with walnut wood even with these disadvantages, there are a few things that you can do.
Learn how to work with the knots. If you happen to run into one while working with a piece of lumber, use it as a hidden piece that won’t be seen such as the back of a cabinet or underside of a chair. At the same time, you may be surprised at how well knots blend in with some pieces and they don’t create an eyesore but instead help make the piece stand out.
You can also improve the natural striking contrast of walnut wood by using oil-based finishes such as dark tinted Danish oil. Apply a dark yet think cot of oil stain to the wood or fill in the grain with a dark, dramatic brown filler. This dark shade will lock into the open grain and cause it to pop and draw attention positively instead of negatively.
Walnut is a nice species of wood to work with and it can be very good quality depending on the grade of lumber you are working with. Knots and discoloration may not always work with your projects but if you want to create something unique and one of a kind, then choosing to work with walnut lumber may be your best option.